I swear that when this episode of Empire ended, I had to double-check to see if it was longer than an hour, because DAMN — a lot went down in episode 8, titled, “The Unkindest Cut!” The Lyon clan has more than its share of backstabbing SOBs. The title is again borrowed from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, and addresses Brutus’ betrayal of Caeser, explaining that when he stabbed him in the back, it was the “unkindest cut of all.” It wasn’t just painful, it was treachery. So as Cookie (Taraji P. Henson) says, “Hold on to your weave, honey,” because it’s about to get messy.
Empire Records has partnered with haute couture designer Helen von Wyeth (Gina Gershon) for a fashion show where Tiana (Serayah) will perform as models stomp the runway. We learn pretty quickly that Helen is a closeted racist, an “alt-white,” who drops terms like “you people” and “urban” in place of “Black” like both are filthy words. We also learn that her fashion house needs Empire to clean up a messy little culturally appropriated clothing line and fashion show with heavy African influence sans any Black models. She makes demands that Tiana wear a constricting couture gown, thus masking her curves, and straighten her naturally curly hair.
Meanwhile, after a consultation with ghost Rhonda (Kaitlin Doubleday), evil Andre (Trai Byers) is poised to make big takeover moves at Empire with Nessa (Sierra A. McClain) in tow. She’s set her greedy sights on Tiana’s spot at the fashion show. Andre has Nessa sabotage, er, “shadow” Tiana as she prepares. After Nessa accidentally ruins Tiana’s gown, she’s full of fake apologies, triggering Tiana into a meltdown where she reads the HvW label for filth. A hidden camera captures everything and footage is “leaked.”
A damage-control meeting between Andre and Helen goes south, where Andre proposes that Nessa, a more “urban” artist, perform during the HvW fashion show, instead of crossover artist Tiana. Helen wants nothing more to do with Empire. That’s when Andre drops all the way down to Lucious’ (Terrence Howard) devious level and chops off Helen’s daughter’s golden locks! Helen is naturally terrified into compliance, but warns Mrs. Dubois to stay away from those evil Lyons. I have to point out here that the underlying message about Black hair vs. the more culturally accepting long blonde hair is subtle, but didn’t go unnoticed.
Nessa’s performance at the fashion show is Black Girl Magic personified, but this is where I give the whole scenario serious side-eye. Let’s have a real moment. Attention designers, magazines, any and all retailers reading this: If you’re outed for culturally appropriating our Blackness, which many, hell the best of you, have done — PLEASE don’t turn around and go full-on celebration of Black culture with your next campaign. Just admit the mistake…ADMIT THE MISTAKE. Get some diversity on your staff and some inclusiveness on your next go-round. Because the HvW “celebration of the Black woman and all that she is” fashion show was all things patronizing and exactly what we don’t need. We’re not asking for kowtowing, we want real representation and equity. That is all. While all this is happening, Tariq (Morocco Omari) goes after Lucious’ mother (Leslie Uggams). He thinks he’s got her where he wants her — to report back family secrets in hopes of nabbing Lucious. She plays into his trap by getting him to admit the real reason he’s going after Lucious. Turns out, he’s jealous of the time Lucious got with their shared father. But there’s a double-cross! Low and behold, Mama Lyon is actually working with Lucious against Tariq and Anika (Grace Gealey)!
Jamal (Jussie Smollett) learns that in order to conquer his PTSD, he must confront Lucious. He does by writing a song about how poisonous his father has been in all of their lives. When asked why he wrote the song, he hits Lucious with, “You seemed kinda jealous of the song I wrote for mom, so I wrote a song for you.” Boom! Jamal plans on writing a whole album about Lucious and Cookie. Lucious reveals that everything he’s done, he’s done out of love for his family, including killing Frank Gathers (Tyrone Ward) when Cookie put a hit out on him. After the family’s collective “whaaaaat” to that little piece of information, Lucious leaves them all with their jaws on the floor.
Finally, Andre and Hakeem (Bryshere Y. Gray) are still locking horns. I sense Empire backstab no. 3,432 brewing as Hakeem learns that Andre is behind the Tiana sabotage. He’s making nice with Tiana for what I suspect will be another devious partnership and takedown. Stay tuned.